Sunday, January 25, 2015

Die Another Day - 2002

Background: as Bond films go Die Another Day was special and special for a few reasons. It was the 20th Eon Bond film (technically it's the 22nd Bond film as both Woody Allen's Casino Royale and McClory's Never Say Never are Bond films, but neither was made by Eon). I'm not sure if they Die Another Day ready to go prior to 2002 or if they deliberately held back, because by releasing it in 2002, that also made it 40 years since Dr. No hit screens.

As a result the film was very hotly anticipated by fans and more casual observers. Bond films had become an event and when there was something to be celebrated, a double celebration at that, it was anticipated to be something special. In some ways I think the milestone and anniversary hurt the film more than it aided it. It certainly didn't hurt box office.

As well as the significance of Die Another Day there was also a big name casting that had people buzzing (more on that in Casting).

Because Die Another Day is the 20th Eon Bond film I'll have a special section listing the callbacks, or as many as I could find.

Nei Purvis and Roger Wade provided the script, there was no input from Bruce Feirstein, and he may have left the franchise by then. Die Another Day also had a new director, making them the 4th director in 4 films. It's a bit of a change when you remember that the first 16 films were directed by 5 people, with Peter Hunt being the only director not to do multiple films, then the next 4 have a revolving door of directors. This can be a good thing as it means that fresh input comes in, but it also doesn't give the director a real chance to develop a style or form any close connections with the regular actors. They also try to put their own stamp on the films they direct which is a little jarring when a new director comes in and tries to do the same thing.

I personally felt the story suffered a great deal by the pressing need to reference the previous 19 films as much and as often as possible, it tended to detract from the movie you were watching at the time. It may not have made as big a difference to a non fan as it did to me looking for them. However my wife, who before we started doing this had not seen any of the Connery's all the way through, she hadn't seen On Her Majesty's Secret Service at all, had brief memories of some of the Moore's and the Dalton's, and could only say with any confidence that she definitely remembered seeing 3 of the Brosnan's, however Die Another Day was not one of them, still felt that it wasn't the best of the films by a long chalk.

Story: concerning North Korea and casting North Koreans as the bad guys drew the predictable response from the insular Asian country and South Koreans also had their issues with things like their soldiers taking orders from Americans and disrespect shown to a statue of Buddha. Both of these could have been easily avoided by a bit more sensitivity when making the film and the picture itself wouldn't have suffered id the offending scenes had been cut or altered.

Bond is betrayed while on a mission inside North Korea, captured, held and tortured. Upon release M carpets him because MI6 no longer know if he can be trusted or even useful to them, he's effectively turned into a prisoner. He escapes and using a tip from a Chinese intelligence operative (no, not Wai Lin unfortunately, but a cameo from Michelle Yeoh would have been really cool, and a callback to Tomorrow Never Dies) and heads to follow a lead in Cuba. I have some issues with this. Bond is held and tortured for 14 months by the North Koreans, yet he walks out of the country as part of a prisoner exchange seemingly no worse the for experience other than a few cuts and bruises and a rather offensive beard. He's also out and about and up and running very quickly for someone who has been tortured for 14 months.

In Cuba he encounters an attractive American who goes by the curious name of Jinx (real name Giacinta Johnson) and after he's slept with her (this was a scene that wouldn't have looked out of place in one of Ian Fleming's books, but didn't seem to quite fit here) finds out that she's more than what she appeared. He later finds out she's NSA and they're effectively investigating the same thing. Bond also finds out that the North Korean colonel he believed was dead has his henchman Zao booked into a Cuban clinic that can give people radical surgery that completely alters their appearance. Zao tends to stand out as an accident that Bond caused embedded some conflict diamonds in his face. After destroying the clinic Bond finds that despite being unmistakably conflict diamonds from Sierra Leone the ones he liberated from the clinic have the stylised GG initials layered onto them. This indicates that they're from a flamboyant British businessman Gustav Graves and all his diamonds are mined from a mine located in Iceland.

The agent goes back to England where M welcomes him with open arms, puts him back on the active list and asks him to investigate Graves, who curiously rose to prominence not long after Bond was captured by the North Koreans. Bond doesn't exactly make friends with the businessman when he challenges him to a fencing match that turns into an all in brawl with swords that nearly demolishes the club that Graves fences at, he also makes the acquaintance of Graves' PA and fencing instructor, the icily beautiful Miranda Frost, who is also working for MI6 to keep an eye on Graves.

The action shifts to Iceland where Graves is going to demonstrate his revolutionary energy source, a mini manmade sun he calls Icarus and it's powered by diamonds, he also has an ice palace located next to his mine. Bond arrives in his invisible car (no, really he had an invisible car, Top Gear proved that you can actually make a car invisible to the naked eye by utilising the same technology described in Die Another Day, it won't work as well, but it can be done) and immediately starts needling Graves and looking for Zao. Jinx turns up as well and when they're not investigating Graves and trying to work out exactly what he is planning they're dancing around their attraction to each other and Bond is trying to seduce Miranda (Brosnan had become increasingly like Connery in that he didn't want to take no for an answer from a woman). More by accident than anything they find Zao and Graves unmasks himself as Colonel Moon. He survived the pre credit sequence and used the diamonds to buy himself a new face (he started out looking like Will Yun Lee and wound up looking like Toby Stephens) and set himself up as Graves. He plans to use his Icarus to destroy the DMZ between North and South Korea and launch an attack on the rest of the world, I think Japan was his first target.

There's a chase across the ice where Bond avoids Zao in a similarly armed car to his Vanquish, although Zao's Jaguar XKR doesn't turn invisible (interestingly enough all the cars featured in any meaningful way in Die Another Day are Fords, with the American company having acquired the British ones) and Bond rescues Jinx from the ice palace, Zao gets killed by a falling chandelier and Bond crashes an ice jet off a glacier. In amongst it all it's revealed that Frost is a double agent, she pretended to work for MI6, but she was really working for Moon/Graves, who she had met while attending Harvard before Bond 'killed' Moon, and she was the person who betrayed Bond and others. MI6 later blame the NSA for not informing them that Frost was at Harvard with Moon, but they really should have found that out themselves before they hired Frost and put her to work as a cryptologist and later a field agent.

The two agents; Bond and Jinx, manage to stow away aboard Graves' plane and try to stop him from fully deploying the Icarus. It turns into a fight between Bond and Graves, once again the villain can believably physically match Bond and a fight between Frost and Jinx. Jinx stabs Frost and Bond prevails against Graves. Graves' death deactivates Icarus as it was merrily blowing up the DMZ and Bond and Jinx escape with the diamonds.

They wind up together in what looks like a temple somewhere deserted and exotic, making love and wondering if they have to give ALL the diamonds back.

Like many recent Bonds it's quite a confused film and overlong, some of the performances were off and the director Lee Tamahori seemed to favour big action pieces over attention to acting and character backgrounds. Interestingly enough Bond seemed more cut up over Frost's death than he did at any time he was with Jinx, her scenes are oddly emotionless from both actors. There's also a reliance on CGI for many of the action scenes, which really doesn't come off and reminds me of the very obvious use of green screen years ago.


Director: I'm not sure why Michael Apted didn't return, I assume he was busy with other projects and got the impression that he didn't much enjoy directing a Bond film. Possibly Spottiswoode and Campbell were also unavailable. New Zealander Lee Tamahori was an odd choice (as a number of them seem to have been during this time), previously he'd directed the highly acclaimed Once Were Warriors, a gritty depiction of modern urban maori life, Mulholland Falls and The Edge. Not really films that scream Bond. He went all in with the action and overdid it most of the time. Not sure how he handled the actors, but he couldn't get a decent performance out of Halle Berry as Jinx and Brosnan as Bond was also very uneven as if he was not quite sure how to play the role. Rosamund Pike's Miranda Frost walked away with the acting credits overall. It seemed to be a bit of an audition for Tamahori and he went on to direct xXx, his style in Die Another Day was probably more suited to a film like xXx.

James Bond: even if he hadn't been already signed and committed to this I think Brosnan would have broken his neck to play Bond in Die Another Day. It was the 20th film, released in the 40th anniversary year. Considering that his performance is uneasy, he seems to not know how to play it, he's light like Moore one moment and hard like Connery the next. He shows very little to no emotion when opposite Halle Berry, yet comes alive when alongside Rosamund Pike, I thought he was going to cry when he discovered Frost's dead body. Maybe he had become stale in the role.

Gustav Graves/Colonel Moon: although they're played by different actors, they're effectively the same character so I'll do them together. Moon is a psychotic North Korean army colonel, who can't live up to his general father's idea of what he should be. When he's believed dead it gives him the chance to alter his appearance and advance his ideas for world domination. Will Yun Lee, who I know best for his role as the obnoxious Sang Min in Hawaii Five-O, although he's been in plenty of films and TV shows, most recently as Mr Gus in the final season of True Blood, plays the role quite well with plenty of energy. Toby Stephens then has the task of playing Graves as if he were Will Yun Lee to make the two characters match. Graves represents himself as a Richard Branson style British businessman, quite flamboyant and popular with the press. What the press don't see is the sort of psychotic rage that Bond provokes when he challenges him to a fencing match. Toby Stephens is the son of Dame Maggie Smith and Robert Stephens. The pedigree had him tipped to be a big thing quite early in his career. Die Another Day was supposed to the springboard to a glittering career, when he followed it up as Kim Philby in the excellent TV mini series Cambridge Spies I thought that may happen, but he never seemed to get the right roles. I do however enjoy him as Captain Flint in Black Sails.

Zao: this is Moon's and then Graves' henchman. He doesn't have to act a lot, although he has more dialogue than many large, dangerous henchmen. The diamonds embedded in his face and the pallor of it as he was interrupted partway through his face altering treatment lend him distinguishing marks like Jaws' teeth, but he isn't really that dangerous, nor does he measure up to some of Bond's other foes or henchpeople. Korean American actor and martial artist Rick Yune, who is a big Bond fan, specialises in this sort of character, most recently as Kang Yeonsek in Olympus Has Fallen.

Miranda Frost: she's not really rated as a Bond girl, and I guess she's not, but it is a big role and complex to play. They gave the character some real background and Rosamund Pike made her come to life. She acted all over the Oscar winner Halle Berry and walked away with the acting credits from the film for me. Rosamund Pike has gone on with the career and has been nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in Gone Girl. If she wins she'll join Sean Connery, Christopher Walken, Judi Dench, Halle Berry and Javier Bardem as an actor who has starred in a Bond film and won an Oscar.

Peripheral roles: the regulars were always going to want to come back here. They killed off Robbie Coltrane's Zukovsky in The World Is Not Enough and this story didn't concern Russia in any way. Felix Leiter never appeared in the Brosnan era, and they could have used Joe Don Baker's Jack Wade in this, but chose not to and his last appearance was in Tomorrow Never Dies. Judi Dench reprised M and got to do some wonderful acting when she effectively fired Bond, and again when she slapped down the abrasive NSA executive Falco. Samantha Bond also returned, but Moneypenny's role was relegated to a very minor one, she's seen as a corpse in a simulation and finally kissing Bond in one she runs herself, that got a laugh, but I was uneasy about it as it showed Samantha Bond's Moneypenny as going down the same desperate path followed by Lois Maxwell and Caroline Bliss. Desmond Llewelyn had unfortunately died as the result of injuries sustained in a car accident not long after the premiere of The World Is Not Enough. Audiences had already been prepared for the actor's eventually retirement by the introduction of John Cleese as his replacement in the previous film, so the comedian stepped into the vacancy left quite ably. Cleese is never actually directly referred to as Q, Bond calls him Quartermaster. He was funny as he always is, and I found his laboratory sequence to be one of the more successful in the film, it was the way they showcased many of the callbacks to previous films. Colin Salmon also reprised his role as Charles Robinson for the 3rd time, but there was no Bill Tanner, so no Michael Kitchen.

Damian Falco: he's a typical American intelligence agent as viewed by people in the Bond world. Brash and loud, obnoxious and revelling in any opportunity to put down the Brits. He's a classless Felix and a bad humoured Jack Wade. I guess they can explain it by the fact that both Falco and Jinx work for the NSA, not the CIA. He's played adequately by Michael Madsen, best known for his roles as Vic Vega and Budd in the Quentin Tarantino films Reservoir Dogs and Kill Bill.

Verity: this is a fencing instructress who appears in the fencing scene, she's wearing a leather bustier that would have looked more at home on a dominatrix, but then again it was played by Madonna (who also sung the theme) so she may have provided her own costume. It's a bit of celebrity casting that really doesn't serve any purpose.

Giacinta 'Jinx' Johnson: Jinx, as she prefers to be known, is a tough NSA agent who can look after herself. Actress Halle Berry said of the character: 'She's fashion forward, very sexy and takes fashion risks.' I'm not exactly sure what any of that really has to do with the character. If she was a catwalk model I could understand it, but she's a sort of female Bond, and in fact she was promoted as an equal to Bond. She's not. Anya Amasova was, Wai Lin was, Holly Goodhead was supposed to be, but wasn't and Pam Bouvier came close. People got excited about the casting of Halle Berry as she had been nominated for an Academy Award for Monster's Ball, and in fact won the award while they were making Die Another Day, so they could promote her as an Oscar winner and give the film some critic cred. She also go co-star billing with Pierce Brosnan. Her acting is very forced and stilted and to be honest her character isn't that interesting, nor does she have a particularly interesting or detailed backstory. Where Denise Richards gets a hard deal for Christmas Jones, Halle Berry gets too much credit for Jinx. There was talk about doing a spin off featuring the character, but much to the annoyance of Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson MGM dropped the plan and concentrated instead on the next Bond film. I personally feel there were a few reasons for it. One was that the character couldn't carry a film on her own, she wasn't that interesting, two was the poor reaction to the Lara Croft films, and at the time there was also a very successful high budget TV show called Alias with Jennifer Garner in the lead, and honestly I'd rather watch the adventures of Sidney Bristow on TV at anytime rather than pay to see a film about a fairly uninteresting character who goes by the unlikely name of Jinx.

The Curse of the Bond Girl: with Berry's profile and body of work it would have been hard to ruin her career. Bond did however have a pretty good go at it. She was in a few less than well received films following her Oscar win and her role as Jinx in Die Another Day, they culminated in the awful Catwoman, for which she received a Razzie, to her credit she actually turned up in person to accept it and took it showing a good sense of humour. Once she'd hit rock bottom with Catwoman, things went back on the upswing and she recently starred in the sci-fi series Extant and has started her own production company, so the Bond curse may have hit her for a while, but didn't hang around.

Pre credit sequence: I guess the tone for the film was set when Bond and two other agents actually surf into North Korea. Colonel Moon is first shown taking out his frustrations on the world by punching and kicking a heavy bag, as he's towelling down he tells the others to open the bag and out falls a badly beaten soldier, apparently you don't disobey or disappoint Colonel Moon. Bond turns up as a diamond smuggler with the booby trapped diamonds (he planted a bomb in them), he gets made, the bomb goes off and he tries to escape on one of Moon's combat hovercraft (they don't set off the mines in the DMZ). Moon goes over a waterfall and Bond is delivered into the custody of Moon's father, a general in the Korean army. We also see how Zao gets his unwanted facial decorations.

Gadgets: are there gadgets in Die Another Day? You better believe there are gadgets! There are plenty of things that we're seeing make a reappearance in honour of the 20th film, so I'll try and limit this to the ones that are debuting in Die Another Day. One of Q's toys is a ring that shatters all glass by emitting a sonic pulse when it's placed on the surface. He has a new watch, according to Q, his 20th, but I don't think it has any new features we haven't already seen. Graves has a battle suit that is connected to his Icarus satellite which is also a gadget. The switchblades are small, manoeuvrable one person flying crafts that Bond and Jinx use to enter North Korea covertly. Bond's Aston Martin Vanquish is equipped with rockets, guns, an ejector seat and the control panel, additionally this one can turn invisible. The Jaguar that Zao pursues Bond in also has missiles, machine guns, a gatling gun and mortar shells. There's also a pair of glasses made by Q which run a simulation. Bond uses them to envisage an attack on MI6 and Moneypenny also uses them to final get James to kiss her.

Callbacks: I felt that as there are so many of these jammed into the film, and it's a special one that it needed its own section. On a personal note I felt that this was overdone and too much attention was paid to it. As I've noted throughout the reviews its not like they don't reference earlier films throughout the franchise's history.
I hope I've picked up most, if not all of them, there are also some that I think stretch the concept a little and are more coincidences than actual deliberate callbacks. You can decide for yourself.

I'll list them film by film:

Dr. No: Honey Ryder is introduced in Dr. No by rising from the water wearing a white bathing suit, it's not only one of the franchise's most iconic moments, but films in general. Jinx's introduction is a recreation of that scene, the main difference, aside from a different actress and character, is that the bathing suit Halle Berry wears is orange and Ursula Andress' was white.

From Russia With Love: there are a few from this film. SPECTRE film Bond and Tatiana making love, and in Die Another Day Chinese intelligence attempt to do the same to Bond and a masseuse they send up to his room. The briefcase used in From Russia With Love also appears in Q's lab. Bond accidentally pops the throwing knife out of the lining. Bond finds Frost in his bed in the ice palace which is rather reminiscent of the scene in From Russia With Love where Tatiana appears in his bed, wearing nothing other than a collar around her neck. Rosa Klebb's spike tipped shoe also winds up in Q's lab. I'm not sure how they managed to get hold of that. Did Bond steal it off her body after Tatiana shot her.

Goldfinger: Bond bets Goldfinger a bar of gold on a golf game. In Die Another Day he bets Graves a diamond on the outcome of the fencing match. There's an exchange between Q and Bond about an ejector seat and John Cleese repeats Desmond Llewellyn's line about never joking about his work. The machine used to try and kill Jinx is a laser, which is very similar to the one that nearly cut Bond in half in Goldfinger, all that was missing was a large chap gleefully shouting: 'No, Miss Johnson! I expect you to die!'

Thunderball: the jet pack Bond used to escape in the pre credits sequence of Thunderball is also in Q's lab. In the clinic he steals a grape from a patient which references him doing the same thing in the  spa at the start of Thunderball. Bond also uses the rebreather again. I hope he returned it to Q branch, although it looked like he threw it away.

You Only Live Twice: Tanaka keeps his base in an abandoned train station. In Die Another Day it appears that MI6 learned something from the Japanese as they also have a base in an abandoned train station.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service: Bond is involved in a huge avalanche in the Swiss Alps and escapes, he does something similar when the glacier in Iceland collapses on him.

Diamonds Are Forever: both Graves and an article about the businessman use the phrase: 'diamonds are forever'. Graves' Icarus bears more than a passing resemblance in both how it's powered and what it can do to Blofeld's doomsday machine in Diamonds Are Forever.

Live And Let Die: this one is pretty tenuous, but there's been a comparison with Kananga's drug crops exploding on San Monique to the destruction of the DMZ in Die Another Day.

The Man With The Golden Gun: it's pretty clear that the inspiration for the mind bending and disorienting mirror laden interior of the clinic in Cuba was Scaramanga's fun house in The Man With The Golden Gun.

The Spy Who Loved Me: this was very obvious. The Union Jack parachute was used by Bond to escape at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me and Graves uses a similar one to pull off a publicity stunt.

Moonraker: Jaws' boat went over the Iguazu Falls and he survived. Moon went over a waterfall in a hovercraft and he also survived. The use of the hovercraft and the chase was also reminiscent of the infamous gondola in Moonraker.

For Your Eyes Only: Sheena Easton appears in the opening credits of that film, and in Die Another Day, Madonna (who sung the opening song) appears in the fencing scene. I think the scene was largely included so that they could get the singer/actress in the film, it doesn't seem to have a lot of other reason to be there. It's a shame that they couldn't get Max the parrot again and put him in a scene in Cuba, that may have worked better, but they had already reused Max in The Living Daylights.

Octopussy: both the Acrostar jet used in the pre credit sequence and the crocodile 'boat' can be seen in Q's lab. They never did it, but surely they could have found a spot for Maud Adams in a crowd scene ala A View To A Kill.

A View To A Kill: again I find this quite a tenuous link, but there's a connection between Zorin viewing his flooding of Silicon Valley and Moon/Graves' watching the DMZ go up in flames as the Icarus flies over it.

The Living Daylights: Kara drives a jeep into the back of a cargo plane while it's still on the runway and Bond and Jinx do something similar to get onto Graves' plane.

Licence To Kill: M tells Bond that his licence to kill is revoked when he insists on going after Sanchez in revenge for Felix and Della. M tells Bond something very similar after he's been released into the custody of MI6 following his captivity and torture in North Korea.

Goldeneye: Bond escapes from Janus' train by cutting a hole in the floor using the laser on his watch. He uses the same tool to cut through a section of the ice in Graves' palace.

Tomorrow Never Dies: there's been a comparison made between how Wai Lin uses a shuriken star to kill a pursuer and Jinx throwing a knife into a guard's throat, but I think this is just a coincidence. There are only so many ways you can kill an attacker.

The World Is Not Enough: again it's really something that I see as a coincidence, but the sprinklers come on when King activates the bomb at the start of The World Is Not Enough and the same thing happens in Die Another Day in the gene therapy lab when Bond blows it up.

There's a couple of other things that reference the character's history as well. Most notable among them is a book that Bond picks up in Cuba, which is the original book written by the real James Bond that gave Ian Fleming the name of his character.  Michael G. Wilson does his regular cameo as a General Chandler. Q makes a point of telling Bond that the watch he is being issued with is his 20th, referencing that this is the 20th film.

Music: by this stage it had become a bit of a game for people to try and work out who would sing the title track. On the face of it Madonna was a pretty good get for the Bond team. She's perennially popular and she's done a few very successful film songs (Into The Groove for Desperately Seeking Susan, Who's That Girl for the film of the same name, and This Used To Be My Playground for A League Of Their Own, all films in which she played significant roles and Crazy For You from Visionquest, as well as most of the soundtrack for Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy, once again a film in which she also starred alongside Beatty) initially they had thought of including her in the credits, but this was then cast aside and she was instead given a cameo role in the film itself. The song is in a word: horrible. Lulu's The Man With The Golden Gun still beats it out in the awfulness stakes, but not by much. Die Another Day as sung by Madonna is a discordant mess that doesn't seem to know exactly what sort of song it's trying to be. It was a commercial success, but then again Madonna could sing 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' release it and have a chart hit with it.

I don't recall seeing a James Bond will return at the end of Die Another Day and having got to 20 films and 40 years I wonder if they were starting to consider winding the whole thing up, at the time both Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson were also full steam ahead on the aborted Jinx spin off.

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